First Day of First Grade // 1980

No matter what day of the week it is, no matter what year or how old I am… when I hear people talking about “back to school”, what immediately pops into my head is my first day of first grade. Man was I excited and boy was I nervous as “all get out”. There was this anticipation of something big happening. That first big day. Something big was about to start: My education! Up to this point, I had been listening to stories from Poppy or my Dad or my Mom or Gram or Grandmom about their days in school. What kind of made it different though was the fact that pretty much ALL of my relatives, not just my immediate family, all had gone to the same school: Upper Perkiomen. Well, I guess technically I was about to embark to Hereford Elementary School which housed Grades 1-4 and kindergarten. But everyone pretty much went to school in the same place. I even got a book SIGNED by my aunt Mary in High School. You know those required reading books that you signed your name to? (I might be dating myself all of a sudden with that one…) Well I opened my copy of Catcher in the Rye and who’s name was in there.. MARY MALASKY. So I was not only headed out on a big journey, but I felt like it was my turn to follow in my families footsteps.

That reminds me even before first grade I was literally scared senseless about school, let alone Kindergarten. I remember this dread gripping my spine when my Mom said something to the effect that “Tomorrow was my first day of Kindergarten”. I had to be somewhere else OTHER than at home, in the back yard in my sandbox building cool forts and playing endlessly with my pile of green army men or post dinner building till my hearts content with my Lego’s? You mean I couldn’t do that stuff part of the day? I was stricken with mortal fear. So much so I recall seeing the sun waning over good old Jefferson Street and I hid behind my neighbor’s green barn that was their garage. I recall standing there just about having a panic attack and not knowing what to do. That “fear of the unknown” set in hard. Man I cried my eyes out. But my Mom called me for dinner and reluctantly I came inside after a long delay… We had a good chat and she explained things to me in a way only my Mom knows how being the sensitive kid that I was. Well, that trauma didn’t last long on that first day of kindergarten and that first day of first grade went a bit smoother now that I had one whole year of kindergarten under my belt. I was practically battle hardened!

But that picture up above is one I remember really well. All that nervous excitement for the journey to begin. I remember thinking of the road ahead: 1st Grade all the way through till 12th! That seemed like a hundred years into the future. Then college and “what do you want to be” kind of questions? Kind of too much to take in all at once. In kid terms, it’s the here and now. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. I wanted to go and I didn’t want to go. Each day was something new and challenging. That’s something I grew to enjoy and look forward to for some reason.

So when I see or hear of my peers kids heading “back to school”, I have to half laugh. For them, it’s different perhaps. I don’t have kids and I’m not a parent. So I guess I’m kind of more in line with their kids and I remember that feeling. I can see it on their faces. I have to say the more schooling I got, the more I liked it. The more excited I was for the year to begin. But when summer was ending? I could tell early on because they started painting the curbs at intersections on our street with a fresh coat of yellow paint. That DEFINITELY meant school was just around the corner. Of course I was disappointed that the summer had come to an end. No more heading out to the Upper Perk pool. No more endless baseball games or heading out for fishing at our favorite spot on the Perkiomen with my best bud Bryan. No more playing till the sun went down, or bending the rules to stay out after the sun went down and on weekends asking Mom and Dad if you can stay up “Just after this next commercial break” kind of stuff (My sister used to pull that with our parents all the time…). No more showing off on your bike hopping curbs and trying to impress the local girls. Which I don’t think we ever impressed them come to think of it. But all that aside, I can look back and say “Yes, I looked forward to school”. Pretty much just like I look forward to each day out in the shop in the here and now. What challenges will I be faced with? What will I learn? Each day kind of begins a bit like that first day of school: Excitement mixed with some nervous wonderment at the long day ahead. The weekend comes when it comes and at the end of each day? Off for a bike ride. Not many girls to show off to these days. So I just wind up having to keep my skills honed should opportunity ever strike…